Thursday, January 20, 2022

Lexicon: Themes and Modular Jams

Here is a key to some of the terminology we will be using in our exploration of Dark Star. There are several themes that reappear in various versions, including both modular jams and musical themes that reappear in several Dark Stars.


Some of these themes were named by Light Into Ashes of the Grateful Dead Guide; these will be marked "LIA." Others were named by ourselves, or are of unknown origin.

Introduction Theme
This appears at the beginning of most Dark Stars, particularly when they do not emerge from another song or ongoing jam.


Main Theme
This appears near the beginning of Dark Star in many early versions, but eventually it comes to introduce the verse.

1971-10-31 4:22

118. 1971-10-24

125887 Detroit 20:49
Main theme at 5:45 and 6:48.
First verse at 7:17.
Feelin’ Groovy at 13:10.
Main theme at 17:59.
Second verse at 19:05.
Goes into Me and Bobby McGee.

The second Dark Star with Keith Godchaux begins with a similar feel as the last, slow and spacey. Keith isn’t really very noticeable at first this time, but after about a minute he begins to make himself heard. The main theme is not in evidence this time; maybe they started that way last time for the benefit of the new guy. In any case, this is a lovely intro, with dark eddies and swirls everywhere.

A little after the three minute point Keith starts to originate a more rhythmic jam. This doesn’t catch on at first, or anyway they let it go by. At 3:20 Garcia plays a high A, hinting at the theme, and then Keith latches onto him and the intensity rises. By 4:05 this has played itself out, and they seem to be faced with a choice between the main theme and dissolution. They choose the latter, getting into a little space jam. Garcia and Lesh consider some strategies for getting out of this, and at 4:58 the latter briefly starts a funky riff, which is a move he will soon be making with regularity as the “elastic ping pong jam” develops.

Nothing catches on, however; at 5:45, Garcia states the theme, but they’re not ready for that yet. Instead, they start to coalesce with a loping jam into which Garcia inserts hints of the theme from time to time. The rest of the band sets up the two-chord foundation, and at 6:48 the theme arrives. This leads to a relaxed reading of the verse, although Garcia’s vocals sound a bit strained.

Lesh seems to speed it up a little coming out of the verse, and the jam that starts here has a bit more pep than we’ve seen so far; then, at 9:25, it suddenly calms down. From here it again gathers momentum, and by 10:00 they are in a frenetic jam again. Keith really pounds on the keys here, getting a rocking thing going that the band is happy to jump into.

At 11:45 they mellow out a bit, but not for long as they soon are driving toward a peak. This seems to culminate around 12:15, but then it keeps going, and at 12:47 Lesh starts pushing toward Feelin’ Groovy, but instead the whole thing flames out in the strangest way—this might not hold together, in fact, so at 13:10 Lesh now insists on Feelin’ Groovy, and they follow him in. This is a very fast reading of this jam, and the band seems to be on the edge of chaos, which Keith seems happy to promote with some rather unorthodox accompaniment.

By 14:00 they are seemingly losing the thread again, although in a very interesting way. They come out of the pedal point here and dive back into Feelin’ Groovy, or almost in any case. It’s really hard to describe exactly what is happening here. Garcia has an idea he’s been trying to promote, and at 15:00 it becomes a rolling figure that will in the future generally herald the MLB jam or one of its permutations. It’s not yet time for that, though, so they gleefully go on skating at the edge of chaos and dissolution.

They get it together in a big way by about 16:45, when they seem to be driving for a peak, and Garcia is soon doing something in the neighborhood of Bright Star. This decisively ends at 17:08, and the band downshifts and seems ready for the main theme. Perhaps for the sake of prolonging things, at 17:27 Garcia throws Sputnik into the mix, although this doesn’t quite materialize, and at 17:59 it’s the main theme after all. This time we will get the second verse—enjoy it while you can.

I could understand if someone were to say that this one doesn’t quite work—at times they barely have it together, and they probably cross the line a couple times into simply not having it together. I think this is a wonderful version, though—it’s full of the spirit of discovery, and the band is willing to take chances exploring their new piano-infused powers. I think they really enjoyed themselves here, and they pushed it a bit. Some times Dark Star is a tour de force, and sometimes it’s an excursion…an expedition, even. This one bursts with life and joy, and it ought to make you happy, too.

What was said:

117. 1971-10-21

112086 Chicago 17:09 (1. 14:57, 2:12)
Main theme at :06, 1:31, and 5:20.
First verse at 6:37.
Bright Star at 12:47.
Feelin’ Groovy at 12:50.
Main theme at 2. :15.
Second verse at 2. :29.
Goes into Sitting on Top of the World and Me and Bobby McGee.

After another good break, Dark Star returns in October 1971. Garcia is now playing the Stratocaster he got from Graham Nash, which will be his main guitar for about two years. The Gibsons are now a thing of the past. It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about this, as he got such a great sound out of a Gibson, but the Strat sounds really beautiful here, and much great music will be played on it. This is also the first version with Keith Godchaux on piano, who debuted two days before on October 19th.

This one starts right off with the main theme, and then they start casting about the heavens. Garcia throws in some pinch harmonics at about :55, and he revisits the main theme at 1:31. Godchaux seems very much at home, and he starts to work himself to the foreground more; there is an intense moment at 1:51 when it seems like he’ll push them outside, and then beginning at 2:56 he starts spiraling upward and then locks together with Garcia, throwing everything into a pleasing sort of chaos.

The jamming loosens up considerably here, and it’s enthralling to hear how the band finds places to go with Godchaux on piano that herald new possibilities for their long form jamming in general, and Dark Star in particular. There is a jaw-dropping sequence that begins at about 4:55, with Garcia and Godchaux ratcheting up the intensity, and Weir providing single note counterpoint while Lesh provides an ominous undercurrent. Garcia then decides this is a good time to assert the theme, before they lose themselves altogether. They draw it out for a couple minutes before getting to the verse, which is delivered rather forcefully.

In lieu of the typical space jam there is a gentle passage, with lyrical musings from Garcia. Godchaux seems to take his cue from the latter, shadowing his line with running commentary, and this turns into more or less a duet, with Lesh laying out and Weir providing color. By 10:40 it is becoming a space jam at last, but at 11:11 Garcia starts a one-note vamp that seems ready to lead them out. Sure enough, a frenetic jam coalesces around him. This section is quite rhythmic, and it seems like it could burst into Feelin’ Groovy at any moment; instead, they drive it to a peak, which Garcia caps with Bright Star—and then, a few seconds later, Lesh and Weir drop them into Feelin’ Groovy after all.

By about 14:12 this seems to be dissolving into chaos, and Garcia starts playing a bit that will often lead into the Tiger jam in the future, although it doesn’t quite get there this time, instead veering into Sitting on Top of the World. This in turn comes back to Dark Star at the end, which proves to be a quick wrap-up with the second verse.

The meat of this is the first segment, and it is magnificent. We’ve heard other musicians sit in on Dark Star, and none have fared particularly well at getting the spirit of the kind of group improvising the Dead purvey. Keith Godchaux, however, at his second show with the band, not only fits in, but he is a central factor here. New and glorious possibilities are suddenly on the horizon.

What was said

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

116. 1971-07-31

youtube Yale 22:48
Main theme at 1:15, 3:25, 7:27 and 9:37..
First verse at 10:20.
Main theme at 18:59.
Second verse at
Followed by Bird Song after a brief pause.

Dark Star returns after a gap of three months, and Garcia is again playing a Les Paul. The band sounds invigorated as they flex their polyphonic tentacles, with Jerry’s piercing brassy Gibson striking sparks off Lesh’s fat round bass runs. As Garcia strikes the main theme at 1:15, a small cut jolts us forward beyond the theme, although I don’t get the sense there is that much missing.

Starting at around 2:20 the band wanders into a kind of spacey pit where the time signature vaporizes and the tonality seems to have a relationship to the old standby E minor. In mid-1969 this might have led to some pre-verse exploration, but since then these interludes seem to lead into the main theme rather expeditiously when they occur during the introductory section, and tonight seems to be no exception, as after about a minute Garcia strikes up the theme. Instead of bringing it all together, though, this time the band darkly broods as Garcia, after some light tolling, strikes out with a spacey lead. By 4:40 this has become a full-blown space jam! Jerry flutters around with some hammer-on/pull-offs as Lesh intones some whole notes that suggest a couple of tonal alternatives in the neighborhood of 7:00, giving us E, A and finally lighting on a hanging G which frames the return to the theme, which Phil proposes at 7:05.

The band broods a bit longer, though, winding up on A with the G natural still hanging in their midst. At 7:37 Garcia states the theme, but we don’t quite get there yet; rather, a majestic and swelling jam rises and rises on the theme chords. As we come down the other side of this, Garcia swirls through the theme again at 9:27 against Weir’s delicate harmonics, again laying in the G natural, until at 10:20 he finally begins singing the first verse after the longest introductory jam since 1969.

After the verse there is a very heavy statement of the main chords, and it seems to be settling into space by around 12:10. This time they do not begin with silence, but rather Lesh plays some woozy effects as Garcia twirls the volume knob. At 13:53, after Kreutzmann beats his toms, the return of the Gibson brings back to us the concomitant insect weirdness. This instigates a dark and heavy jam that begins as a flurry of disparate elements held together by the beating toms, until Jerry’s riffing begins at 15:25 to suggest a way forward—at 16:00 Lesh decides this will be Feelin’ Groovy, and Weir soon picks up on it with some dirty chording. Garcia at times sounds unhinged and vicious in a way that he only does when he is playing a Gibson.

At 17:16 Garcia takes them out with some almost Sputnik-like squalling, then moving to some celestial lead that again heavily suggests the dominant 7th, G. At 18:00 he starts riffing in a pattern we’ve heard before, and which bears a family resemblance to several Dead vehicles like Sugar Magnolia and even Run for the Roses. It’s uncertain where this is going, and by 18:24 Garcia is suggesting a return to Dark Star, but they pause to tear it all down before Jerry strikes up the theme at 18:59. They stretch it out a bit, and there will not be a second verse tonight, an omission that will soon become standard operating procedure. At 22:20 a band member calls for Wharf Rat, and for a moment it sounds like they’re going to go there, until someone counts them in and they start Bird Song—I’m not sure how they figured that one out.

The band plays dark and heavy here, and Kreutzmann lays into the toms frequently which, along with the emphasis on the G, gives this one a rather humidly brooding vibe. The band is absolutely torrid, and there are certainly glimmers of 1972 at this point, which some of my confederates here have begun pointing out already in some of the recent renditions. Although Dark Star has been placed on the back burner relative to its previous central place in the set, in hindsight we can see gestation rather than stagnation, as it will soon return to its place of honor as the jam vehicle par excellence. While they play it less, Dark Star has nevertheless been uniformly strong over the past year and a half. Still, it is rather surprising to find them playing such a long and beautifully realized intro jam at this point. The post-verse section, centered on Feelin’ Groovy, is not as exploratory as the intro section, but overall this version is superb.

What was said

Thursday, January 6, 2022

115. 1971-04-28

youtube Fillmore East 14:00.
Main theme at 3:23.
First verse at 3:37.
Sputnik at 7:50.
Main theme at 12:13.
Second verse at 12:33.
Goes into St. Stephen.

TC returns for a guest spot on this famous version from the Fillmore East. He’s an audible presence right off the bat, although he stays in the background. The introduction circles around the main theme, but it is not stated at first; Garcia soars into a near-Bright Star at 1:50. A turning point is reached at 2:50, and some minor-inflected musings ensue. This leads rather quickly, however, to the main theme and the verse.

Garcia’s voice sounds a bit strained on the verse, and he goes off key here and there. A broody section in e minor follows. The point where space arrives comes at 5:41, and the band seems about to bring it down to silence here like a 1970 version, although TC keeps swirling away. Volume knobs are twirled as they ease into a foreboding section with heavy Lesh and some feedback. At 7:30, Weir plays some Spunik-like licks, and then Garcia takes it up at 7:50.

By about 9:15 this is turning into a vigorous little jam that takes its cue from the rolling feel of the Sputnik they’ve just left. The band really starts kicking it up here, and it is popping off in all directions. This grinds to a halt at about 10:50, and they enter calmer waters. A bouncy jam emerges, until another hiatus at 11:55 leads to the main theme. Garcia sings the second verse, and we’re out.

This is a very nice version. It certainly could have been longer, as I wouldn’t mind hearing them run down some of the ideas here at length. TC’s return is welcome, if not overly momentous. It’s nice to have a keyboard in the mix, though. Overall this is a solid run-through.

What was said

114. 1971-04-26

145130 Fillmore East 12:52
Main theme at :06, 1:20, 2:54, and 5:12.
First verse at 5:47.
Sputnik at 8:15.
Main theme at
Goes into Wharf Rat.

They start right off with the main theme, and the jamming when it starts stays close to home, circling back to the theme several times. There is a dark and languid sound to the playing tonight. From about 4:45 the band pedals a bit, and almost it sounds like they’re going to break into a modular jam here, but instead they return to the theme and sing the verse. There is a sudden and unexpected uptick in tempo just before they get there.

The post-verse space makes a bit of a comeback tonight. After the verse, they roll around on the Dark Star chords for a while, and then at 7:50 they crash into space ever so briefly before Garcia starts to spin out Sputnik at 8:15. This is played out by 9:14, where Garcia seems like he’s going to wind up the theme for a moment, but instead more spacey expressions are forthcoming.

At 11:22 Jerry fires up a lead line that seems like it wants to lead into the middle jam, and indeed not long ago it would have, but we’re almost out of road here. The jam seems to flounder a little before Jerry strikes up the Wharf Rat chords, and Dark Star is over.

This is a nice little piece of music, although it doesn’t particularly stand out among the Dark Stars we’ve considered thus far.

What was said:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

113. 1971-04-08

141099 Boston 14:35
Main theme at 4:01.
First verse at 4:27.
Sputnik at 7:25.
Main theme at 12:44.
Second verse at 13:19.
Goes into St. Stephen.

Ned Lagin sits in, although I didn't really notice him until others pointed it out. This is the first Dark Star with one drummer, as Mickey Hart left the band after 1971-02-18.

Phil Lesh is quite loud here, and sounds somewhat different. They start out with a statement of the main theme pattern, and this provides the foundation of introduction. The band comes to a peak rather early, with some classically transcendent Garcia notes resounding, and then they regroup and reach it again. Things finally begin to shift as they approach the four minute mark, but this proves to be a brief respite before the main theme. The theme then takes them on to the verse without much ado.

I thought I detected a very short cut after the verse, of maybe a second or less. The post-verse space seems to have been abandoned; instead, they enter a kind of spacey jam. At 7:25 they grind almost to a halt, and Garcia assays some Sputnik-like runs. These are eventually absorbed back into the jam, which has a minor feel. At about 8:55 Garcia seems to want to shift it back to a major thing, but Weir is not eager to oblige. By 10:00 the three string players are locked in and playing some polyphonic madness that seems to be heading for a peak, which Garcia helps along with some near-Bright Star gleanings from about 10:38.

This all comes down again at around 11:10, where the band seems ready to make some kind of transition. A descending four-chord pattern emerges, but it does not stay for long. They instead bring it to a two-chord bit that stays for a little while until Garcia brings back the main theme, and they then go to the second verse, which contains a very short cut.

A short version this is, certainly, but it is nevertheless packed with wonderful playing. Dark Star seems to be receding in importance, judging by the amount of plays it gets, and perhaps they felt like they’d given it all they had in under 15 minutes this time. Nevertheless, though it doesn’t range far, the band sounds fantastic here.

What was said

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

112. 1971-02-18

111793 Port Chester, NY 1. 7:02 2. 7:19
Main theme at :54, 1:56, and 3:02.
First verse at 3:26.
Second verse at 5:44.
Goes into Wharf Rat and Me and My Uncle.

The first Dark Star of 1971 gets off to a bold and snappy start. Garcia is now playing the Rick Turner “Peanut” guitar; although he did not play it for long (Jan. 21—April 29), he got a striking sound out of it, and it is a sound which became much-loved due to the self-titled live album from April 1971. The playing here is beautiful all around, and Garcia’s tone is magnificent. Jerry briefly dives into the theme at :54, then circles around a bit and comes back to it a minute later. He breaks out some double stops at 2:30 or so, at which point Weir really starts driving him, and a splendid peak is reached before they again double back to the theme, and on to the verse: “Dark star flashes.”

There is a brief reprise of the introductory jam after the verse. They never quite get to space; rather than descending into silence, Garcia keeps frittering around, and then they go into the first Wharf Rat. This is played solidly and confidently; this whole sequence so far is a tour de force, although one wonders whether they are beginning to feel a bit less motivated to draw out Dark Star, and if the energies that have made it such a consistently powerful element of their set are beginning to dissipate.

Wharf Rat dissolves into a bluesy take on the Dark Star theme. They start a vamp on A with a little kick to the D; then the band goes to a B minor to A pattern while Garcia starts playing a melody on a D major/B minor scale, and the famous “Beautiful Jam” comes shimmering out of the speakers. This really sounds like it was composed, especially since Garcia starts his line right when the others modulate.

At 2. 3:25 it turns into a vamp on the A, with hints of Sugar Magnolia, and they pedal along there for a while. The preceding jam has cast a powerful spell, and I kept expecting it to resolve back to B minor, even though A is the home chord of Dark Star. Instead, Jerry sings the second verse, and it’s all over.

What can I say about this jam? It is gorgeous, and all too brief. Not much of consequence happens afterward, but it doesn’t really need to—this has been a major statement, a stunner. This is an extremely pithy Dark Star, but a powerful one. It poured out of the amplifiers and into history, and we are fortunate to have these recordings.

What was said

Sunday, December 26, 2021

111. 1970-11-08

28609 Port Chester, NY 16:06 + Main Ten Jam 5:51 + Jam 2:58.
Main theme at 5:45.
First verse at 6:38.
Goes into Dancing in the Streets after the Main Ten Jam.

The last known Dark Star of 1970 begins with Garcia playing a repeating pattern that flirts with the main theme. Lesh steps out a little, but everyone is playing gently here, and there is no real lead line. They seem to be suggesting E minor quite a bit as they go on, and the music sort of broods along. Garcia plays a flourish of triplets at 4:12 that stands out as it skims over the top, but for the most part they are blending their instruments into a larger whole. At 5:45 Garcia starts to fire up the main theme, but they maintain a light weave right up to the verse, which is laid in gently.

Coming out of the verse, it seems they are keen to maintain the meditative feel of the piece. Space brings us down to almost nothing but some cymbals. Someone makes bird noises, eliciting a lot of laughter at 9:10; Weir jokingly admonishes the crowd, “This is serious!” The crowd seems rather fired up for the occasion, even as the band tries to play a quiet and spellbinding Dark Star. Space stays at a minimum for a good stretch here, and when the intensity increases it is more or less a deluge of sound, but not a barrage of notes. Again there is some bells or glockenspiel as we near the end of space, and then a repeated note that is almost like a beeping. Garcia finally starts playing The Main Ten, and the band picks it up.

This is also played rather gently, although as is to be expected it gathers some momentum as it goes along. By about 3:50 this turns into a one-chord vamp, and the band seems to consider moving on to something else, but they just sort of hover there for a while. A little bit after the 5 minute mark Garcia starts hinting at a return to Dark Star, but instead they get into another jam that drifts toward Dancing in the Streets. After a couple verses of this, they break into Soulful Strut, and this ends with what briefly sounds like a Dark Star jam, so this could also be seen as a continuation of Dark Star...

The main portion of this is understated but quite beautiful, with a very effective space after the verse. Once they come out of space the jamming seems a bit listless, though, although not without charm altogether. To me this is an ambiguous version: one could surmise that they are running out of ideas for Dark Star, but one could just as easily say that they are still uncovering new possibilities.

What was said:

Thursday, December 23, 2021

110: 1970-11-05

17182 Port Chester, NY 21:07
Main theme at :32, 3:33, and 4:25.
First verse at 4:38.
Feelin’ Groovy at 16:31.
Bright Star at 18:37.
Second verse at 19:32.
Goes into St. Stephen.

Once again the audience recording is far from perfect. Weir lays down a chugging rhythm, and from Garcia there is a variation on the main theme at about :32. I’ve listed this above, although it’s not always easy to determine what is to count as an iteration of the theme. The introduction has a blithe, happy-go-lucky feel, and after three minutes there still is not a clear sense of direction. At this point Garcia starts to heat up a bit, but we soon arrive back at the theme. The band drifts away a little, comes back, and the first verse arrives.

Space emerges as a kind of gestalt this time, a surrounding ambience of foreboding that sort of oozes along. At 9:40 there are hints that a more familiar music might emerge, as we start to distinguish individual instruments and track their direction. However, there isn’t any recognizable movement away from space until 11:14, when hints of Sputnik are given. Weir does his shimmering thing, and then at 11:49 Garcia strikes up a melody. Somebody is out of tune. At about 12:22 Garcia does a rolling sort of thing which is not Sputnik, but may have some genealogical connection to the latter.

By about 13:10 we seem to be in a new jam, which doesn’t sound much like anything we’ve heard before—we are out of space, but the foreboding heaviness remains, and this is almost a kind of funeral music. Are there hints of Feelin’ Groovy poking through this dirge? Lesh seems to be making a suggestion in that direction, while Garcia seems to be pushing it toward a more Dark Star-oriented jam. He alludes to the theme at 15:25. Weir is quite assertive here, and a guitar duet takes shape. At 16:13 Garcia is worrying at the theme again, but then at 16:31 Lesh again pushes for Feelin’ Groovy, and this time it goes through.

This is a gentle rendition, with some very lyrical work by Garcia. The chord sequence dissolves shortly after the 18 minute point, and the band pedals along on one chord until 18:37 when Garcia brings out Bright Star. At 19:09 this transforms into the main theme pattern, although Garcia never plays the theme itself.

At times the introduction felt a bit aimless, but the rest of this is quite entrancing. Dark Star is becoming a much less central part of the Grateful Dead phenomenon, but it will see a renaissance when Keith Godchaux joins the band. For now, though, they still seem to have something to say with the form.

What was said:

Friday, December 17, 2021

109: 1970-10-17

119329 Cleveland 19:17 (cut)
Bright Star at 13:13.
Sputnik at 15:02.
Main theme at 17:13 at 17:41.
Second verse at
Goes into St. Stephen.

Here we have another imperfect audience recording. In fact, it sounds really bad. Garcia fiddles around with the verse melody in the beginning, but it does not go to the e minor, so it is unofficial. In any case, it is a very vigorous opening; they keep it close to home with the two chords going, but the playing is pretty intense. At 3:13 there is a sudden cut to the end of the verse, though, so we seem to have missed a bit of this very promising intro jam.

After another descent into near-silence, space elicits some boisterous cheers when the bass starts rumbling. There is a rather scary swell, and then as it recedes Garcia is there with some Sputnik-like licks, although he does not go into Sputnik; rather, space continues with some volume swells. On the other end of this Garcia again flashes Sputnik and Weir plays the shimmering accompaniment that has become familiar. An alternately swelling and receding melody with a minor feel emerges here.

As Garcia’s line becomes more pointed, someone is playing some bells (or a keyboard that sounds like bells?). A two chord jam coalesces here and gathers steam. Garcia takes the opportunity to build a stinging line, at times hinting at Bright Star, which is where it seems this will go, although it’s not time for it yet. Aha—there it is, coming together at about 13:13.

They regroup off the back of Bright Star, and soon reach another peak, with Garcia from about 14:14 really howling and raising the energy level again with a repeated lick. There’s a pretty unique peak heading into the 15 minute mark that unexpectedly turns into Sputnik, so we have another familiar element that seems out of place. More frenzied jamming ensues, and what sounds like it’s going to be an elegant transition into the main theme turns awkward before it gets there. At 17:43 there is another cut that takes us into the verse, where it seems that Garcia is doubling his vocal with the guitar (as he always does--see Mr. Rain below!).

This is a really gripping version, and we can only regret not having a better recording. The band seems eager to shake things up, and there is some outstanding jamming here.

What was said

Monday, December 13, 2021

108. 1970-10-11

9500 Wayne, NJ 20:29 (cut)
Main theme at 2:14 and 3:22.
First verse at 4:08.
Sputnik at 11:32.
Main theme at 18:33.
Second verse at 18:56.
Goes into St. Stephen.

This horrible recording cuts in right in the middle of the action, and it sounds like they’re going at it rather splendidly—everyone is playing aggressively as they hit an early peak. They slow down and stagger the beat before broadly hinting at the main theme at 2:14; however, they blast off again without committing to the theme, which they return to a little over a minute later.

The post-verse space seems rather noisier than the last one as it gets underway. The song structure drops out, but there are cymbals and then a lot of whooshing and sproinging. At about 10:30 Lesh starts a really heavy riff and there is a remarkable segment that unfortunately doesn’t last very long. After some deliberation, Garcia turns to Sputnik to get us of space. We don’t get very far out, though, and things seem to collapse back into space again until Jerry starts playing a lead line that sort of gets them moving.

At 13:30, Weir tries a rock and roll riff for a bit, and Garcia seems to me to be anticipating Soulful Strut at times. A rock jam coalesces. It starts to sound a little more like Feelin’ Groovy, at least rhythmically, but tonally it seems more of a Dark Star jam. Finally at 15:45 Lesh plays Feelin’ Groovy, but then Garcia seems to start the verse melody and Lesh starts playing the main theme pattern, which they then gravitate toward.

By 16:50 they seem out of gas, and the whole thing stalls. Various directions are proposed, and Garcia starts hinting around at the main theme, and the band follows suit, but it takes Jerry a while to get all the way there. When the second verse starts, it doesn’t seem a moment too soon.

There is, as usual, plenty to enjoy and admire here, including a pretty wild space section. But the band seems scattered, and at times they seem to run out of ideas and fail to keep things going. It’s possible that the bad recording magnifies the effect and there is something more going on I couldn’t hear. In any case, this one is interesting but inessential, and kind of painful to listen to.

What was said:

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Two Chord Jam (Mr. Rain)

I think they do some simple two-chord theme coming after space in most (if not all) of the 1970 Dark Stars, but as far as I've noticed they never do it the same way. So it's kind of elusive, and I'm not sure if they're actually repeating the same chords each time.

While this thread has lots of in-depth reviews of individual, isolated Dark Stars, so far there's not so much comparison among groups of Dark Stars. So in the interests of scholarship, I put together a little timing list to make easy comparisons of at least this little section of 1970 Dark Stars -- the jam coming after space. Specifically, I was looking for the two-chord part that often kicks it off that year, or sometimes shows up a minute or two in the jam.

1970-01-02 at 17:00 (but the really unique theme starts after 18:00)
1970-01-17 at 10:40 (comes out of Sputnik, turns to Dark Star framework after 11:30)
1970-01-23 at 10:35 (comes out of Sputnik)
1970-02-02 at 10:20 (starts loose, gets more structured after 11:40)
1970-02-08 at 14:00 (very loose, gets more Dark Starry after 15:40)
1970-02-13 at 14:30
1970-02-14 at 10:55 (they lean hard on the 2-chord bit, as on 2-13)
1970-03-24 at 6:20 (theme gets going at 7:20)
1970-04-24 at 12:10 (comes out of Sputnik, Feelin' Groovy starts at 12:40 so not much here)
1970-05-08 at 8:30 (comes out of Sputnik, sounds like a slow Dark Star theme)
1970-05-15 at 8:30 (Sputniky phase at 9:20, 2-chord theme at 10:00)
1970-05-24 at 12:05 (comes out of Sputnik, Bob hits chords at 13:20, then new theme)
1970-06-24 pt. 2 (Dark Star theme after Attics, not really comparable)
1970-09-17 at 11:15 (comes out of Sputnik, slow theme similar to 5-08)
1970-09-19 at 13:15 (comes out of Sputnik, Bob hits chords at 13:45)

And looking ahead a bit....
1970-10-11 at 12:30 (comes out of Sputnik but takes different path, not very comparable...this sounds insane)
1970-10-17 at 8:10 (OMG! totally different! -- then Bob hits chords at 10:15, a slow take)
1970-11-05 at 11:30/12:15/12:50/13:40... (very slow start out of space....totally unlike previous jams til they get to Dark Star theme around 14:30, this is WTF amazing!)
1970-11-08 (Main Ten out of space, completely different)

So, unless it resurfaces in 1971, I'd say this two-chord theme pretty much reaches its culmination on 9-19-70....the Dark Stars later on in the year go other places. Mind-boggling places.

As far as when it started, I haven't really investigated late '69 for it yet, but I don't recall the December '69 Dark Stars locking into this two-chord theme at all. They do feature an important predecessor though, Bob's dreamy arpeggio that he often uses out of Sputnik -- like at 12:40 on 12-26-69, or 12:55 on 12-30-69. This is the riff that Bob often uses in 1970 to introduce the jam, leading into the chords. The Dark Stars of January '70 have the same kind of loose open-ended feel as in Dec '69 when the jam gets started, but some like 1-23 or 2-2 have that two-chord theme creeping in, and on 2-13 it's full-blown, and it stays put in Dark Star through September.

A couple caveats: I don't know if "theme" is the right word here. The chords seem to me to be kind of a funky variation on the Dark Star theme, kind of a cross with Soulful Strut (and often leading into it). I think it should be given a name, but...this is probably too late now that almost all its performances are behind us!
Also, it's played a bunch of different ways; the jams it was in could vary a lot, so it's not like a theme where everyone had a specific part to play. The main connecting thread here is just Bob's chords, which he could alter to suit the occasion...sometimes a slow Dark Star groove, sometimes a hard R&B style.
Anyway those are just my layman's observations; someone more musically astute could come up with a better analysis.


This is the chord theme that goes A7 to G7, using the F natural as a contrast to the F# that usually exists in the Dark Star world, right? I tried to make note of it, usually yeah, going into the Major 7 version of the G (at the very least, if it goes full on"Soulful Strut" latin vibe, the A also gets the Maj7 and it has that proto-Eyes feel.)

This is great, doing whole-period summary stuff. Thank you!

107. 1970-09-19

31510 Fillmore East 25:30 (25:23)
Main theme at 1:47 and 5:06 and 6:09.
First verse at 6:23.
Sputnik at 13:16.
Feelin’ Groovy at 16:10.
Bright Star at 20:51.
Main theme at 21:15.
Bright Star at 22:16.
Main theme at 23:27.
Second verse at 23:51.
Goes into St. Stephen.

The feel is rather relaxed at the outset compared to recent versions. Garcia’s remarkable entrance begins with a note at :22 that comes in and out and finally swells in on a razor edge of feedback. Once he starts his line proper, it is subdued and meditative, seemingly elicited by the delicate playing of the rest of the band. They touch down on the theme early, and head back out.

At 2:35 Garcia again swells in and out on an extended note, this time with a little tremolo picking a la the beginning of Foxy Lady. At 2:50 Garcia does some of the bell tolling we sometimes hear after the first verse. The ruminative playing seems to suggest E minor, then at 4:13 Jerry strongly suggests A, but no move is made toward the theme for almost a minute. When they do hit it, they use it as a springboard to a more assertive jam, although the intensification is by degree and feels organic, leading back to the theme again and the verse. This is one of the most beautiful introductions we have yet heard.

Weir comes to the fore following the verse, with Lesh gently rumbling and Garcia throwing out a bell toll or two, and then there is a transition to silence to begin the space section. A few volume knob swells at an almost subliminal level keep a kind of momentum in play, and then Garcia gently tolls a bit and the cymbals swell. There is a sound like dripping water, and then some amplifier noise cuts in. At about 10:25 a transition seems to be occurring as an intense wash of sound starts bubbling up from the band.

At 11:14 Garcia and then Weir start making sounds that bear a recognizable relation to their origin in guitars; at 12:03, something resembling Sputnik starts coming out of Garcia’s guitar, but we don’t seem to be leaving space, which is if anything just getting more insistent. Then at 13:16 Garcia starts up Sputnik, which could be our line out. Weir’s counterpoint here is gorgeous. Suddenly Garcia is climbing and Weir is playing some funky chords, and, after a magisterial space segment, the middle jam is underway.

At 14:35 Weir sounds like he wants to start Feelin’ Groovy, but nothing comes of it yet; instead, a quite vigorous jam, basically on A with a little kick to the D, coalesces. At 16:08, everyone pauses and Weir kicks into Feelin’ Groovy. Garcia’s lead here is particularly effective; after such a subdued preface, he cuts loose at last. This does not last long, though, as the band shifts through various pedaling maneuvers, and at times seems to touch on Sugar Magnolia. This seems to be one of those segments where they allude to certain structured jams, but manage to stay out of all of them, creating something unique in the process.

A bit after the 20 minute mark Garcia seems to be pushing toward Bright Star, which would get us back into Dark Star territory. When he finally hits it at 20:51, he does it half time rather than taking the jam over the top with it, and they bring it down to the main theme. Rather than going to the verse, they cast about a bit and land in a beautiful jam into which Garcia drops a delicate hybrid of the main theme and Bright Star. This gathers steam, but they are not aiming for a crushing finish tonight—even the peaks feel meditative. Soon they return to the theme, and thence the second verse.

What a wonderful Dark Star. Calmness and a kind of majesty reign throughout, as the band never pushes too hard. This is a monumental rendition that belongs in every Dark Star fan’s rotation.

What was said

Monday, December 6, 2021

106. 1970-09-17

145891 Fillmore East 26:40 (26:28)
Main theme at 3:03 and 4:01.
First verse at 4:22.
Sputnik at 10:29.
Bright Star at 16:45.
Soulful Strut at 17:42.
Main theme at 24:27.
Second verse at 25:05.
Goes into St Stephen.

A cry for Alligator is heard; many is the time that song will be mentioned prior to a Dark Star. Again we start briskly and with purpose, but the recording does not sound great at first. At 1:50 the band sidesteps into an alternate reality; they go off on a droney bit that takes the jam away down a side street. But at 2:47 Garcia starts in on a Bright Star bit that brings it around to the theme. They wander off a little but then come back to theme rather promptly, and so to the verse.

Space has been bleeding back into the bit between it and the verse lately; when they get to space proper, there are some elephant noises, then a cymbal crash, and the audience is appreciative; I’m not sure if there was a visual component to this that helped get their attention. For the most part, this space isn’t a continuous flow so much as a bunch of weirdness, it seems. But as we get to the ten minute mark it starts swelling in, with volume knob maneuvers starting to glue things together a bit more. By 10:29 Garcia’s Sputnik licks are audible and getting louder, which is a pretty standard route out of space at this point.

This time Sputnik settles into a harp-like pattern from Weir that we’ve heard before, and Garcia starts a high, piercing line that indicates the start of the middle jam. His playing gathers momentum as the band lays down a two chord pattern, and by 15:00 or so they are hitting a peak. They circle about a bit, and at 16:45 they hit again with Garcia playing Bright Star. Coming down the other side, they seem to be struggling a bit to get into Soulful Strut.

When they do hit it, the tempo is very brisk. Listen to Garcia’s licks at 20:00; he gets some good ones in. He seems to have exhausted the fund by around 20:45, though, but Weir keeps on with Soulful Strut a bit longer, and this section feels kind of aimless. Then when they seem to be getting out of it, Garcia prolongs it a little more (21:45) until they sort of crash; the audience gives them a solid cheer as they wind down into a spacey little jam that seems rather unique. By 24:00 they are pedaling and seem almost about to kick off another modular jam, but finally Garcia throws out the main theme and they latch on at a rather quick tempo with the audience clapping along. They don’t try to slow it down this time before bashing right into the verse.

The sound quality makes it difficult to evaluate this rendition, insofar as moments that seem aimless or tentative may just be partly buried. In any event, they get in lots of really good jamming along the way, and even your most discerning Head will find something to appreciate here.

What was said:

Saturday, December 4, 2021

105. 1970-06-24

23062 Port Chester, NY 1. 10:01 (9:46) 2. 6:39 3. 30 (Feelin’ Groovy…first 30 seconds of track “Sugar Magnolia”) 4. 3:03
Main theme at 4:00 and 6:11.
First verse at 6:29.
Bright Star at 2. 2:30.
Soulful Strut at 2. 2:54.
Feelin’ Groovy at 3. :30.
Bright Star at 4. :30.
Main theme at 4. 1:14.
Second verse at 4. 1:29.
Goes into Attics of My Life, Sugar Magnolia and St. Stephen.

This is a renowned show despite the quality of the recording. This begins rather brashly, it seems, although audience recordings have a tendency to skew that way. Garcia and Weir lock into a funky little thing at around 1:30, and then Jerry goes spinning up into the stratosphere. Lesh and Weir keep up a perky counterpoint throughout the early innings, and when Garcia gets more ruminative Weir keeps him honest with some chunky riffing. There’s a stirring peak at 3:45 which leads into the main theme. It’s notable that the theme is not really even hinted at prior to then, in contrast to several recent Dark Stars.

They wander away from the theme, and as we cross the 5 minute Rubicon there is a little dip in intensity that sets them up for a wind-up that takes us back to the theme by 6:11. This time it leads into the verse. The post-verse space demonstrates that Mickey has found his gongs; at 8:42 someone in the audience is heard to remark “Oh, my God!” Relief is on the horizon, however, as the band goes into Attics of My Life after a couple minutes of space.

As Attics ends the band gets right back into Dark Star. They start out playing the main chord pattern, and it evolves into a vigorous jam, with Weir again playing chunky chords. It is possible to see Attics as a proxy for space here, and now we’re heading into the middle jam. It’s a rather full tilt affair, with Garcia howling and driving as he starts to whip up Bright Star already at 2. 2:30. Before he’s done, Weir is already cooking up Soulful Strut. By around 2. 5:00 this has gotten really intense, as they reach a polyphonic peak, and after a little dip they bring it back up again by 2: 5:50. Garcia unleashes some crazy runs at about 6:35 before they go into Feelin’ Groovy. This is tracked as Sugar Magnolia, and after 30 seconds they go into the latter.

Sugar Magnolia transforms into a jam which isn’t clearly Dark Star at first; once again, the change comes about 30 seconds into the track, when Garcia returns to Bright Star. This settles down into the main theme, and then the second verse takes us out.

This Port Chester show sees the band playing ferociously, and the Dark Star here, while it may not be very exploratory, spread as it is among various segues, is a hot one. The playing is downright vicious at times. Not to be missed.

What was said:

Thursday, December 2, 2021

104: 1970-05-24

6481 Newcastle, UK 21:26
Main theme at 4:22.
First verse at 5:27.
Sputnik at 11:13.
Soulful Strut at 14:39.
Bright Star at 19:20.
Main theme at 19:36.
Second verse at 19:54.
Goes into St. Stephen.

This comes on fast and furious as they waste no time in getting into a groove, and by 1:25 Garcia has already ascended to the heights and unleashed a variant of Bright Star. From here the intro seems to be all peak. At 3:34, Garcia starts hammering on a dominant 7th (G) and Lesh, and then Weir, double him. The recording goes off a bit shortly thereafter, but everything is still audible in any case. The band swings into the theme, and then takes it way down for a while before Garcia finally sings the verse.

The band gets kind of crazy in the little section between the return of the intro theme and space, with some feedback squalls beginning before we get to the space proper, which proves to be a rather feedbacky affair overall. Weir, I think, yells “Hey, watch where you’re going, ****er!” as space gets underway; I wonder whom he is addressing. Someone has an amp humming, whether intentionally or not, which kind of ties the space together this time. The band seems to rediscover the possibilities of feedback here; in lieu of a keyboard player, they get a good variety of sounds going tonight.

At about 11:13 Garcia initiates something along the lines of Sputnik, and this gets more Sputnik-like as it goes. As this turns into a more quotidian Dark Star jam, Lesh sounds really fuzzy, and one wonders if an amp has been blown. At about 13:20 Weir is laying in some dreamy Sputnikish stuff under Garcia’s line, which soon turns to a funkier chop. Just before 14 minutes it seems like they’re angling toward a modular jam, and a two-chord pattern emerges which suggests Soulful Strut, although without the Soulful Strut cadence at first. It sounds a bit like the pattern used in the famous Beautiful Jam of 1971-02-18, which is itself probably some kind of variant of Soulful Strut.

At 14:39 they fully commit to Soulful Strut. This turns into a magnificent version. At about 17:40 they start moving into something else, but it’s not clear what that is; it becomes a bubbly jam, then pedals along between a I and a vii chord until at 18:50 Weir starts playing his Dancin’ in the Street lick. Finally, at 19:20 Garcia plays Bright Star, but he almost immediately switches to the main theme and brings us to the second verse.

This isn’t the best Dark Star I’ve ever heard, but it isn’t chopped liver. There is a rather magnificent Soulful Strut, and some interesting interstices where possibilities seem to gather, although they don’t get explored very patiently. In any case, there’s nothing here to complain about!

What was said

Sunday, November 28, 2021

103. 1970-05-15

youtube Fillmore East 19:40
Main theme at :05 and 2:46.
First verse at 3:05.
Feelin’ Groovy at 15:14.
Bright Star at 17:13.
Main theme at 17:45.
Second verse at 17:58.
Goes into St. Stephen.

The obvious step finally taken, this Dark Star begins with the main theme straight off. It has been interesting to watch the development of the intro jam—after the very early versions, it seemed to be straying farther out for a while; lately, however, it’s been increasingly pegged to the theme. This isn’t to say that it has gone back to basics; rather, I am tempted to say that the theme has returned in sublated form, as in the third stage of a Hegelian dialectic. I shall resist this temptation, however—while it would be an illuminating remark, all it would really bring to light is the fact that I have at least skimmed the Wikipedia entry on Hegel. What I really mean to say is that the intro has not been stripped back, but it seems to have been decided that the theme will serve as both the backbone and as a constant touchstone that keeps the band closer to home in the early going. They have not abandoned all exploration, but they don’t stray too far from home ground in most of the recent renditions.

The band sounds confident, and they are mostly content with the two-chord pattern here. This lovely intro is entirely a rumination on the song structure, and Garcia touches on the verse melody at :40, 1:57, and 2:30. Although they do not crash into the E minor, they strongly suggest it after the second of these. They go to the verse rather early here, without ever really wandering out, and yet if this jam is in a way basic, it is nevertheless masterful—sometimes it is sufficient to play beautifully and well (is it always sufficient? Maybe not, but it would be difficult to think of a counter-example!).

They have gotten extremely good at subtracting most of the music as they initiate the space section. Although they do not even keep a pulse going, they still manage to maintain an almost uncanny momentum during these quiet sections. Tonight, as more sounds start to enter space it feels like an organic progression. This segment is brief tonight, however; at 8:34, Garcia starts a rolling lead that serves as a de facto Sputnik, although this time what he plays is not the Sputnik pattern.

At 9:24 Garcia strongly asserts the A as though they’re going to the main theme, but he soon adverts to a more Sputnik-like series, although this also doesn’t last long, with the guitar moving back to a more classic Dark Star lead. Weir starts up a chunky but gentle palm muted rhythm that pushes into the middle jam. The drummers back this with insistent percussion at first, but they avoid the kits as the band chimes and bounces without quite breaking out.

At 12:34 Garcia lays in some Sputnik-y rolls; the theme of this jam seems to be a blend of Sputnik and a straightforward Dark Star jam. At 13:00 Jerry breaks out a double time Sputnik, but he then moves almost immediately to the stabbing that sometimes comes at the end of this section. Weir joins in, but they calm down again quickly; at 13:49 Garcia quotes the main theme, reminding us of the other pole of this jam. The drums start to assert themselves and the jam picks up steam, but as the music intensifies the light and airy mood is somehow maintained. At 15:14 Weir—taking a hint, I think, from Garcia—seamlessly moves them into Feelin’ Groovy.

Like last time (04-24), this starts to sound more like an UJB jam than Feelin’ Groovy—enough so that I am not sure how to tag it, since the band sidesteps out of it almost immediately thereafter. There is a moment of hovering, and then—beautifully, inevitably—Garcia climbs, and a Bright Star is born. The band sounds great throughout, and the ensuing tempo reduction seems to be a matter of consensus. Garcia sings wonderfully, and Dark Star comes to a close again.

Although in some ways this could be considered a conservative rendition, it is nevertheless a tour de force; to some extent, the impression of conservatism can be attributed to how skillfully they navigate the transitions, and to how seamlessly the parts fit together. Ideas don’t seem to be lacking, even if not many new ones are proposed; the band sounds inspired, reveling in the structures that at other times they take pleasure in subverting. The clarity of the recording certainly doesn’t hurt, as the splendor of the playing and singing is rendered in full color here. All in all, this is a beautiful Dark Star.

What was said:

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

102. 1970-05-08

32056 SUNY Delhi 18:05 (the beginning is cut).
Main theme at :45.
First verse at 1:14.
Sputnik at 7:30.
Soulful Strut at 11:10.
Feelin' Groovy at 16:00.
Goes into Dancing in the Streets.

This is a truly horrible recording. Much of it sounds like a piano accompanied by a tuba. Since the Grateful Dead at this point included neither of these instruments, one has to question the fidelity of this recording.

There is a certain amount of charm to the screeching, roaring and howling space section, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say the experience is enhanced by the nature of this recording. This does seem like it was probably one heck of a space, in any case. It ends with a Sputnik; this time, it seems like a little more of a traditional Sputnik than we’ve been getting lately.

At around 9 Minutes we seem to be back in a more traditional Dark Star type jam, as it seems like Weir and Lesh are playing a main theme kind of pattern. Garcia seems to be playing a kind of rolling pattern in various places that has an odd effect, as the tape picks up his high notes in a way that makes them sound much different from his lower sounds, so he sometimes sounds like two different people.

They work their way into a Soulful Strut jam. This gets kind of hypnotic if you bend your ear to the murk. 14:20 is a good example, if you listen for a few seconds, of how when Garcia changes registers the sound seems to come from somewhere else—an interesting artifact of the recording, I suppose.

At around 16:00 the jam changes. JSegel has been callin Feelin’ Groovy a UJB jam, but this time that is what it sounds like to me here. It is possible that the recording is fooling me and I can’t adequately discern the chord pattern, however. In any case, at least for now I’m going to call this a UJB jam.

A few seconds before the end of the track the band shifts into Dancing in the Streets, and Dark Star ends without a second verse.

I don’t have anything more to say about this—it was difficult to get through. Probably a good version, but anyone not doing a project like this one should not feel obliged to listen to this.

What was said:

Monday, November 22, 2021

101. 1970-04-24 (possibly 4-23)

19531 Denver 24:39
Main theme at :30, :50, 1:32, and 6:05.
First verse at 6:34.
Sputnik at 11:05.
Feelin’ Groovy at 13:01.
Soulful Strut at 13:54.
Bright Star at 22:05.
Main theme at 22:30.
Second verse at 23:03.
Goes into St. Stephen.

The sound quality of this aud leaves much to be desired. The band cranks along convincingly on the intro jam, with some visits to the main theme punctuating the proceedings. Garcia, who is once again playing an SG, sounds really great here. There is a quite majestic feel to the playing here, and there is a sense of bobbing along on some effective swells and peaks in a continuously flow of sound. There is a particularly rousing peak before the drop into the main theme just prior to the verse.

Once again there is a good patch of near-silence at the beginning of space, which is a particularly unique and effective strategy in the Dark Stars of this era. At 9:30, we find that the return of the SG also has brought us the return of the insect weirdness, which seems to lend credence to JSegel’s theory that he is playing behind the bridge in a way he cannot do on a Stratocaster. Space proceeds very quietly until, at 11:05, there are adumbrations of Sputnik. This is sort of a Sputnik and sort of not, as is often the case these days; I guess it can’t hurt to list it. It soon turns into a more ordinary line from Garcia; Lesh dips into Feelin’ Groovy at 12:40, and after a little dithering that’s where it winds up going, and then it works its way over to Soulful Strut.

They play the heck out of this one, and Garcia sounds magnificent on the SG (or at least, given the quality of the recording, he sounds like he sounds magnificent). By around the 16 point Soulful Strut seems to be winding down, but they crank it back up to a crescendo. Finally at around 17:20 Garcia lets out a flurry of notes that bring Soulful Strut to a close.

He then plays some double stop riffs, and it’s not clear exactly what’s going on here, but it seems like something different. It starts to take the rhythm of Feelin’ Groovy, more or less, but with different chords. At 19:05 Lesh starts playing Feelin’ Groovy, but Garcia keeps shifting up a fourth and throwing it into disarray. Lesh lets out a final flourish of Feelin’ Groovy chords when Garcia stops. At about 20 minutes, they shift back into a Dark Star pattern. This then changes into some 5-beat arpeggios, and then back into a hard charging jam that again dips into a Feelin’ Groovy kind of beat before veering into a Bright Star-like peak; then they take it over the top into Bright Star, drop down into the main theme and head to the verse.

This is a remarkable version. The jamming after Soulful Strut is rather unique, and at times it’s hard to discern what they’re doing. At times, once again, the cadence of this section reminded me of Run for the Roses. The final peak is brutal, devastating. The sound is terrible, though.

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Lexicon: Themes and Modular Jams

Here is a key to some of the terminology we will be using in our exploration of Dark Star. There are several themes that reappear in various...